Blackbox manifold

Issue 15: Agnes Lehoczky

The Mother

Dear logophilic friend, collector of letters, the lepidopterist

continues in another half-composed epistole, despite its

mistake of being in the wrong place, gathering the wrong

things, tumbling towards the wrong source of enlightenment,

the poem today shows, unmistakably, a strong tendency to fall

towards silence. Propelled towards the pool. Is any man wiser

than Socrates or Celan sat in lotus pose wordless at opposite

ends writing in air or water, the rhetorical question we might

ask, one writing at the dawn, the other at the closure of writing

against writing. O the absolute rhetoric of the anti-scribe. The

poem, their message says, no matter how murky, should be as

transparent as the pool. Composing letters, Nabokov, the

philatelist claims, is a blend of dejection and high spirits, a

torture and a pastime. On the other hand, he who loathes

writing writing down longs for a new career as a guardian of

dead moths, unsent postcards, coralised butterflies. He longs to

be a museum attendant, a three-headed, multi-souled hellhound

who guards an entrance no-one ever enters in fallen Saint

Petersburg or clandestine Prague for a life-time or for as long

as the museum is open, in other words until it shuts. Therefore

I too must, o mottephilic friend, seek the core of the fear of my

other, o wing-phobia, o fluttering lover, do not write on the

body of the butterfly. Knowledge of any thing that partakes in

being may help ease our fear of the things it fears. Meditation

or other structured breathing exercise. And you, breathless

beginner of fearing, you must free your dead moth, the no

chance moth struggling on glass. The estranged, furry self

agonising on the border between inside and outside. Dear X,

enframer of the world. A being is a being that is being. There is

no simpler mediator between the moth and nothing than

nothing. The moth thinks we can’t see what it is being because

it does not belong either to the frame, the world, or to you. No

absolute pen that could navigate the poem in the writing

exercise. At the bottom of this swimming pool you won’t find

any pre-meditated, painted lines. The body, in here lost, we

could almost think, is free. And the poem continues to be never

found. For what is found is already misplaced. And there we

were, remember, at the edge of the pool amongst bronze

figures illuminated in an imagined source of light, unsure

whether at the beginning or at the end of what was to take

place in between. And to pass the waiting time we were talking

of a melancholic mother all summer – her terror of talking of

her terror of talking. It is a bit like, she says in the end, when

Panna the sheepdog died. The day she became tongue-tied. The

tumour chewing a bit of her body away each day advancing a

day closer to what by now is far too far. The growth, then,

although invisible to the eye, we knew, existed because the dog

does not exist anymore. In a dog’s invisible life the speed of

gnawing, the unnoticed non-being gnaws seven times swifter.

O phlegmatic old dog. There is another dog seven times faster

than the dog inside the dog inside. And we were there again at

the edge of the pool to understand the speed of time seven

times speedier, the speed of sadness speeding seven times

faster. Dear gatherer, we frame the world so it can be seen or

understood or found. And we saw that it was already autumn, a

liminal season. The pool was not quite yet escaping its own

momentum, in there time was seven times slower than real

time, seven times idler, I thought in the sauna, because I was

there at the edge of the melancholic pool. And I saw my

reflections on the glass. And through the glass I watched

bronze bodies swimming up and down to and froing between

two tiled walls like trafficking dark tree logs, o all the Y-shaped

non-swimmers floating down the dark Danube. Multiple and

simultaneous realities of pool-water. Dear fictitious friend,

Ottlik thinks we who partake in being in the real world can

imagine this world always already unreal. Being non-being, in

other words. He imagines his protagonists to be invisible to

others. So he spends most of his time in an imaginary pool

thinking he too is unseen. But in a pool clarity, in a pool

enlightenment and transparency pool’s always static and

already idle no matter how fast you swim. There is another

poem seven times faster inside the poem inside. And in the

pool another pool. The same pool. In this pool the poem is a

poem unmoving you. Dear unmoved Y. A blue tiled concrete

basin filled with chlorine and water is the same tiled and

concrete basin filled with chlorine and water you bathed in the

other day, no matter what David Hockney says. And it is where

we stood at the edge of the season with bronze bodies

illuminated in otherwordly light. There were no warning signs

to warn us but the pool. Despite loud loudspeakers urging

swimmers to get out of the water, you, madam, as well, in the

pink swim cap, sir, in stripy trunks, the rules apply to you too.

A light summer storm came with muffled thunder and Y shaped

lightning above the water. And we had to leave the pool that,

despite the disruptions, remained the same. And with us the bus

meandered across Water Town, the old Buda district in the

summer storm that wouldn’t soften or ease down. Soon cones

and conkers were falling on the roof, each minute stronger and

louder until we thought war must make this sound. Outside the

summer streets were white, flooded with thick ice, hailstones

the size of cherries or pomegranates. Contours of the world

melted, blurred as if this world were the extension of the pool.

A water world in which everything could become everything

else. And at this border crossing of beings the city became a

river, as if the city had always been this river or more precisely

as if the city had never existed before and after the flood, and

in this river city the cars and the trams had to learn to drive on.

There’s another city seven times faster in the city inside. And

then the outside became invisible. And inside utterly silent.

Needless to say the metamorphosis didn’t last longer than a

quarter of an hour, almost as long as it takes to narrate it all to

you, a quarter of an hour where I knew I belonged. Then the

sun shone, the sky turned blue and the city continued to

navigate on. Dear visible other, now imagine the terror of an

imagined mother floating somewhere in the middle of events,

the dying sheepdog, the moth on the glass, the bus that was

drowning, writing contra writing and lovers of words against

love, remember the hail storm, like an erasure that can turn the

city into ice. The night butterfly, that agonises in another

language. Dead moths who can reinvent their lives in this one.

O loather of lexis. We stood there at the edge of the pool

talking of sleepless nights we spent with shutters shut. The

collective fear of night apparitions, the triangular dark body on

our white walls. The fan-shaped fear’s night visit. The bizarre

genus camouflaged on the black window-glass. Body flattened,

as if it could make us think it were only glass. As if it were

darkness. Unbelonging to the world or to you. Dear moth-

fearer. Overcome your fear and be a mother, an Aurelian, the

bronze-bodied swimmer, golden, like the colour of chrysalis or

the drooling sun in sunset. A collector of lepke, a day or night

time butterfly in my mother’s tongue. Dear museophile friend,

collector of clutter. Everyone collects pools in the end. But in

their centre all pools have a plug through which they regularly

escape. To overcome the obsession we must suspend the

writing it all down. Walk, or write, like lepke on the surface of

rough terrains, Ottlik reasons, without clothes, barefoot

amongst thorn bushes and gigantic water melons. Moths are

bizarre creatures, Woolf, the moth-murderer writes in her essay

on the plane back to England at the end of one summer, her

aircraft tossed around in turmoil. Sebald, the moth mourner,

encounters it in his grotty B&B room on the East Anglian

shoreline. They have, he claims, an angular relationship to a

bright celestial light such as the Moon. But those celestial

objects are so far away, that even after travelling great

distances the change in angle between the moth and the light

source is negligible. In other words they think the lamp,

towards which they come plummeting downwards in a spiral

flight, is the Moon. There is no right word to change the mind

of the lost genus, to explain that they are mistaken, that they

made a fatal navigational error. Their innate longing for both

darkness and light. The moth, of course, is the poem. And the

poem, of course is a swimmer in the pool during front crawl.

Head facing down towards the tiled bottom. Head turning

skywards when out for a breath. The alternating arms’ rolling

movement, the experts say, prepare the body for an easier

recovery compared to butterfly. Dear longing writer. Adam

thinks moth is a sign of writing flowing smoothly. The room is

a room in another room. Imago moulting into imago waiting to

become. Dear Adam. The old photograph you sent me with the

image of the Underwater Swimmer was taken in a Budapest

pool in 1917. Swimmer Underwater, the dormant swimmer

waiting to be woken, which I came across much later from

1978, seems to be to me the perfect reflection of its model;

Hockney’s version of the swimmer perhaps somewhat lighter

or darker than its prototype; however, in both, spiky reflections

strike the water in electric bolts of light as their swimmers

glide, curious creatures, disembodied crab claws, the online

photo albums guide the eye. Or perhaps like headless Rilke

torsos. Only the striped trunks ensure us the body of

Underwater Swimmer is human as the head disappears in the

movement of the water. It casts a deep shadow of Swimmer

Underwater, the dormant swimmer waiting to be woken on the

shallow bottom, while other tiny shadows melt into the fluid

scene, circling his body like newly hatched tadpoles, orbiting

around its miniature self. In the split-second exposure, the

swimmer’s extended body seems to hover suspended in the

water. A floating faun. Contours of a fluid angel drawn from

violin strings. Shooting a horizontal skywards. Distancing.

Distancing. Slowly. Slowly. Away from itself. A melancholy

tulip. But at what point does meaning become distortion. There

is meaning inside inside. Dear liminal moth on the glass.

Márai, the headless author, unseen and unheard of, in his

studies on Turkish spas of old Buda districts sketched in the

1940s argues, that humanity can only sustain itself if it steps

out of history. It must swim out of its old shell. The dark

Danube. To exist you must exit, he adds in the notebook, at

which stage he’s still living in the country not having quite left,

beheaded or bereft of love yet, nor deprived of the accent on

his laurel crown, by then peripatetically cocooned in the coat of

another writer in a country that does not recognise or see him.

His overnight train at this stage of the narrative had not yet

crossed any visible border. He, the invisible prophet in exile

inside and outside, thinks, the wise perform aquatic thinking in

the inner domes of steam rooms away from the public. For the

hooded writer the spa is an aquatic monastery for fluid

thinking. The fool, he reiterates, exposed to the world, scorch

their skin outdoors in the midday sun. In the milieu of

indifference, the anonymous author adds, for the self to survive

you must write to a reader always already dead. Dear composer

of chaos. At what point does distortion remain beautiful. At

what point is origin original? Where did we begin this actual

discourse? And at what point of our loving it does the body, the

poem, the thing, the subject of our affection and attention

become hideous or repulsive? Socrates thinks it is when a thing

becomes unhidden, that is, found. Dear terror-ridden reader, we

must hope this book is not going to terrorise anyone. Look,

worshipper of blue sky and sun. We know that moths will burn

their wings, which proves that light is good for them, or else

they had flown not where they agonise, the poem within the

poem says. The source of light, a Tungsram light bulb with

filament made from tungsten instead of carbon. The inscription

reads 1910: wire lamp with a drawn wire and a light

indestructible. The globe, the old advert adds, is as small as the

bulb. The bulb as great as the globe, is what they mean. There

is a globe within the bulb, is what they really think. Talking of

swimming pools shrinks the Earth. It turns the poem into a

photo essay. The narratives of terror and affection, always

turning backwards, towards darkrooms, but already propelling

towards safe neon light. The limbo between affinity and

aversion. The see-sawing: when you are up in the air I am

always already on the ground. In moments when the clouds

close in above one’s skull and hooded crows begin their

necessary seasonal discourse so that one’s major organs quiver.

Dear x-rayed reader. Socrates, sat still, in a pupa-position at the

margin thinks, we don’t need to laminate the globe. Stay in

darkness, invisible, he reasons, do not illuminate the room.

There is a secret path of writing without a turn. Be atropos, the

moth-enthusiast, the cosmic, he says, whose mind is the Moon,

eyes the Sun. It stares skywards. It has a thousand heads and a

thousand feet like a universal insect. Be tautology; darkness

inside another darkness inside. Dear illuminator. Let there be

light inside the light. Look. Ottlik sets his protagonists in the

milieu of Lukács spa in Budapest where the two friends spend

whole days in silence. For the men, who occasionally hum or

nod, pool is a perfect place for pool and people watching, idly,

cocooned in sunshine, waiting for a freed up sunbed or

eavesdropping carefree banter about the results of the water

polo final. The unreliable narrator tells us a few pages later that

the friends say nothing because at the time they thought of

nothing else except nothing. Except the anchor of a lost ship at

Trieste Bay. Near the bay is Rilke’s dark and lonely castle.

Dear numb child the child inside the numb. In the novel’s

public pool the two protagonists of course eventually speak.

The subject is a manuscript a dead friend had left behind. What

hope do we have left, the dead friend reasons on the page, if

not even a mother can read writing without writing. O lost

moth-finder. Don’t break me, the moth says: my head is made

of glass. Can you see what I am thinking? Or perhaps it says:

can you see what I am.

Ágnes Lehóczky is an Hungarian-born poet, scholar and translator originally from Budapest. Her poetry collections published in the UK: Budapest to Babel (Egg Box Publishing, 2008); Rememberer (Egg Box Publishing, 2012) and Carillonneur (2014, Shearsman Books). She also has three poetry collections in Hungarian: Station X (Universitas, 2000) and Medallion (Universitas, Budapest, 2002) and Palimpszeszt (Magyar Napló, Budapest, 2015). She was the winner of the Arthur Welton Poetry Award 2010 and the inaugural winner of the Jane Martin Prize for Poetry at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2011. She was Hungary's representative poet for Poetry Parnassus at Southbank Centre during London's Cultural Olympiad in Summer 2012. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Poetry: the Geometry of Living Substance, was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars, and a libretto of hers was commissioned by Writers' Centre Norwich for The Voice Project at Norwich Cathedral as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2011. A sequence of her prose poems Parasite of Town, on psycho-geographic aspects of Sheffield, was commissioned by Citybooks Sheffield in 2011. She co-edited Sheffield Anthology; Poems from the City Imagined (Smith / Doorstop, 2012) with Adam Piette. She currently works as a lecturer and teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield. Her new poetry collection on swimming pools is scheduled for 2017. A small fraction of the pool poems have also been published in a chapbook Poems from the Swimming Pool (Constitutional Information, Sheffield, 2015